Titta Ruffo

The first in my family to be baptized "Ruffo" was a hunting dog;
the second a singer and it's me;
the third a Doctor of Economic and Commercial Sciences, and he is my son,
the fourth is... in the mind of God. [...]
The name of the dog brought me luck.

Ruffo Cafiero Titta (stage name Titta Ruffo) was born at number 19 of via Carraia (today via Volturno 31) in Pisa, on 9 June 1877, from Oreste Titta and Amabile Sequenza.

His family and first years in Pisa
The family, coming from Gombitelli, a hamlet of Camaiore in the Apuan Alps, was of socialist faith: hence the second name imposed on the son.
The first name, as Titta Ruffo himself recalls in his memoirs, was that of his father's dog, accidentally killed in a hunting trip.
His mother Amabile Sequenza (1851-1904), possibly of Spanish origin, was a governess.
His father Oreste (1851-1904), a blacksmith, was the foreman in the Bederlunger foundry in Piazza Sant'Antonio in Pisa.
The second of six children, Ruffo had in addition to his elder brother Ettore (1875-1956), four sisters: Fosca (1879-1957), Nella (1884-1954), Settima (1886-1972) and Velia (1890-1938).
His brother Ettore, who graduated in clarinet, composition and conducting at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, author of an opera, Malena (composed in 1905, never performed), had a good career as a singing teacher in the United States; his sister Fosca was a promising soprano and Velia a poet.
In 1912, during a vacation in Abetone, Velia met Giacomo Matteotti, politician, deputy and secretary of the unitary Socialist Party; in 1916 she married him in a civil ceremony, before he was sent to confinement in Polesine, as an anti-interventionist.

In 1883-1884 the family moved to Rome, where Oreste soon became the owner of a workshop.
Ruffo entered his father's workshop as a blacksmith, but due to the constant clashes, as a result of the indomitable character of both, he temporarily moved away from home, working in the surroundings of Rome.
Only Ettore went to elementary school, and could then be kept in his studies, which from the age of fifteen continued at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory.
Returning home, Ruffo resumed a more orderly and quiet life there, in a family where music had become at home thanks to his brother's studies, whom he accompanied to the Costanzi Theater, in the autumn of 1890, to listen to a play of the Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, with Roberto Stagno and Gemma Bellincioni.
The presence in the house, as boarder, of the Pisan baritone Oreste Benedetti, led Ruffo to discover the potential of his own voice and to cultivate it.
He was admitted to the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, assigned for acting to the class of Virginia Marini, a famous actress, and for singing to that of Venceslao Persichini, former teacher of Mattia Battistini and Giuseppe De Luca among others.

Milano and initial approval
Due to frequent misunderstandings with Maestro Persichini, Ruffo left the Conservatory after seven months.
In 1897 he left for Milan to meet the Pisan baritone Lelio Casini, from whom he took a few lessons, although his tendency towards self-teaching clearly emerged.
The Milanese environment put him in contact with the world of entrepreneurs, and this fact offered him the opportunity to make his debut at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on April 9, 1898, as Araldo in Richard Wagner's Lohengrin, then as Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti.
At the beginning of a brilliant career, first in the theaters of the South Italy, then of the whole peninsula, he made his debut in parts that later became as many workhorses: Rigoletto and Conte di Luna in the Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi (Livorno, Arena Alfieri; in August repeated Il Trovatore at the Politeama Pisano, thus marking his debut in his hometown), Don Carlo in Giuseppe Verdi's Forza del destino (Catanzaro, Comunale); in 1899 Marcello in Giacomo Puccini's Bohème (Catanzaro, Comunale), Renato in Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera (Acireale, Bellini Theater), Barnaba in Amilcare Ponchielli's Gioconda (Catania, National Theater), Alfonso XI in Gaetano Donizetti's Favorita (Catania, Teatro Nazionale), Valentino in Faust by Charles Gounod (Salerno, Municipal Theater), Escamillo in Carmen by Georges Bizet (Padua, Teatro Garibaldi), Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni and Tonio in Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo (Bologna, Duse Theater); in 1900 Giorgio Germont in Traviata (Genoa, Carlo Felice Theater) and Don Carlo nell'Ernani (Ferrara, Tosi-Borghi Theater), both by Giuseppe Verdi.

In the southern hemisphere
In that year he undertook his first tour in the southern hemisphere, in Chile, in Santiago, Valparaiso, Talca, Concepción: he made his debut as Nelusko in Giacomo Meyerbeer's African, Gérard in Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier and Jago in Giuseppe's Verdi Otello.

In Europe
In the first months of 1905 Titta Ruffo brought a vast repertoire to Odessa and Petersburg, which ranged from Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Rubinstein and Gounod.
On May 4 he made his debut at Sarah Bernardt in Paris in Siberia by Umberto Giordano in the role of Gléby, and on May 13 in Fedora, where he was joined by Enrico Caruso, with whom he would work again at the Opéra in 1912, in Rigoletto and in La fanciulla del West.
Among his greatest interpretations was always that of Hamlet in the homonymous opera by Ambroise Thomas, in which he performed for the first time at the São Carlos in Lisbon in 1907.
With the same part he made his debut in 1912 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, after the US debut of the same year at the Metropolitan in Philadelphia, with Rigoletto.

The Fascist era and detention
Following the murder of Matteotti, ordered by Mussolini, Titta Ruffo, who carried the coffin on his back at the funeral of his brother-in-law, was boycotted by the regime, accused of being a subversive; hence the decision not to sing in Italy anymore.
Returning home for personal reasons, he was arrested in 1937.
He was released from prison after a few days due to the violent protests of international public opinion, but forced not to leave the country and to divide his life between Bordighera and Florence.
At the news of Mussolini's arrest on 25 July 1943, Titta Ruffo threw open the windows of his home and sang the Marseillaise, while a cheering crowd, recognizing him, gathered under his house.

He died in Florence on July 5, 1953. He is buried at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

Gifted with a powerful voice, with an unusual extension and a formidable resonance, Titta Ruffo was also an unsurpassed actor.
These two qualities led him to propose a new type of baritone, in contrast with the nineteenth-century tradition, capable of becoming part of the realist revolution announced by Cavalleria rusticana in 1890 and by Pagliacci in 1892. In particular it was suitable, with that voice of his inflected leonine(Giacomo Lauri-Volpi), to impersonate markedly tragic or grim roles (Hamlet, Iago, the Count of Luna ...), or mocking like that of Figaro, in whose clothes he often had a Don Basilio played by Fëdor Ivanovič Šaljapin. With the latter, and with Enrico Caruso, Titta Ruffo thus became one of the most representative interpreters of his time.

Cortigiani, vil razza dannata (Rigoletto) youtube   Brindisi (Amleto) youtube   Enrico Caruso and Titta Ruffo (Otello) youtube